Akok is a rich Kelantanese delicacy made of eggs, sugar, coconut milk and flour, which is traditionally baked over charcoal fire.
For Hazanna Trading, a Jeli-based food manufacturing business in Kelantan, meeting demands for akok is sometimes a tall order.
Using traditional baking utensils, the company could bake 30 pieces of akok only in 25 minutes, and the pancake-like dessert had to be flipped manually in copper moulds.
But that changed when a team of lecturers from Universiti Teknologi Mara’s (UiTM) Faculty of Electrical Engineering (FKE), led by Dr Noorfadzli Abdul Razak, devised an innovative solution to boost production in commercialising the popular Kelantanese confection.
Noorfadzli and his team, comprising Dr Fadhlan Hafizhelmi Kamaru Zaman, Dr Mohd Faizul Mohd Idros, Associate Professor Dr Juliana Johari and Dr Syahrul Afzal Che Abdullah, spent eight months completing the automated akok baking system.
The machine has boosted Hazanna’s operational efficiency and improved its baking processes.
Noorfadzli said: “Apart from the desire to meet customers’ demands, the company also wanted to venture into the frozen food business. It was looking for a machine that can expedite the baking process. Its target is to produce 100 pieces in 60 minutes.”
After carrying out an in-depth analysis and consultation with the business owner, he came up with the design of the automated machine.
“The part of the machine that we built and focused on was the installation of electrical parts. It consisted of a programmable logic controller (PLC), motors, proximity sensors and roller limit switches.”
Upon receiving information from sensors and input devices, the PLC will process the data and trigger output based on pre-programmed specifications. The machine’s output capability had surpassed the production target, said Noorfadzli.
“Now, we can produce 10 pieces of akok in under five minutes. That makes 120 pieces in an hour. The company has built a successful frozen akok enterprise.”
Apart from employing precise control, the machine was designed based on the client’s needs, resulting in the cakes having a uniformed texture and authentic taste.
“Initially, I was going for electrical heating, but the company requested a direct gas-fired oven for authenticity. They are also using traditional copper baking moulds.
“In the oven, the flames come from the top and base of the baking chamber. The operator can adjust the heat using the control knob.
“We have programmed the heat so that the akok can rise up in the beginning and shrink upon hitting the cool air to form wrinkles. No manual flipping is required.”
The programmable control system requires minimal supervision.
“Conveyor rollers are constantly moving. The speed can be controlled. The pushers we fixed on the machine automatically move products onto the oven belt and off it.”
After several rounds of testing, the machine was delivered to the company. There, Noorfadzli and a few team members assembled it and trained two workers to operate the equipment.
“We took into account the workers’ education level, so we made sure the electronic system was simple to understand. The crucial part is maintenance, which includes oiling the conveyor rollers and regular cleaning.”
The machine offers great flexibility.
“It has four adjustable gas burners for different akok flavours, namely original, cheese, corn and chocolate. It can also be used to make other baked goods, such as bahulu.”
As the machine has become a success, Noorfadzli and his team are working on a second prototype with several enhancements.
Among the highlights is the incorporation of artificial intelligence (AI) into the system.
Noorfadzli said: “For the current machine, akok pieces are produced uniformly due to the settings that I have set. With AI, the machine will be tuned automatically. For example, if a mould of akok is overcooked, the AI can retune the speed and heat levels. This ensures that the next batch will turn out well.”
“It would see an increase in efficiency,” he added.
“Even with new additions to the menu, you can just select it with a click of a button. The machine will know the accurate speed, heat and duration needed based on input data.”
In the midst of fabricating the second prototype, the team foresees endless possibilities.
“We are looking into making the size more compact to fit it into a food truck. This modification will help more business owners,” said Noorfadzli.
Syahrul Afzal, who is FKE’s deputy dean of research and innovation, said the collaboration was mutually beneficial.
“As researchers, we aspire for our research results to be adopted by the industry through commercialisation. Meanwhile, the industry is also looking for innovations to reduce operating costs and scale up production.
“We’re also planning to place a machine at a community centre to help the underprivileged and single mothers. They can use it for small-scale businesses and improve their lives.”
The team had plans to collaborate with an assemblyman to bring the project to greater heights, he added.
“The assemblyman has shown interest in our machine. He is planning to acquire funds for the development of the second prototype to help his constituents generate income,” said Syahrul Afzal.
Noorfadzli added: “Instead of helping one individual or business at a time, we hope the innovation can benefit society at large. That is our target.”
The collaboration was formed under a demand-driven innovation project grant by the Education Ministry’s Public-Private Research Network (PPRN) in 2018.
PPRN grants are awarded for innovations that can improve products to meet market needs, execute a new or significantly-improved production process, and streamline production using modern technology to increase efficiency.